PRESERVING A WILD LEGACY: THE LAKES ROADLESS AREA
THE ROADLESS COUNTRY
The country adjacent to the protected High Uintas Wilderness is full of rich wildlife and forest vegetation. The mere existence of a line on the map doesn’t connote what is wild, just what has been afforded federal protection. It is this
country upon which the last several issues of THE LYNX have focused. Here we focus on the Lakes Roadless Area, our proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness. This wild country on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest extends west from the
Mirror Lake Highway and Bald Mt. to Hoyts Peak overlooking Kamas Valley.
THE HIGH UINTAS ROADLESS LANDSCAPE
What exactly is it that creates the immense importance of the Uintas' roadless country? It could be the range's size, its many moods of weather and physical challenge to the visitor, its profound silence in winter and cacophony of needles, leaves, stones, waterfalls in winds of autumn, its powerful rains and sun of summer in the high country, its chance encounter with creatures that never leave a mountain range in which they were born. The Uintas are a living system, an irreplaceable fabric of forest life.
These are not abstract values; they are special places. That sense of a wild place is fundamental within each drainage and is enhanced as a profound wild character when viewed as a whole place of roadless drainages.
It is tempting to think of the roadlessness that surrounds the Uintas as individual roadless areas. Of course, it isn’t; it is a sweeping arc of a single roadless landscape flowing out from the 460,000 acre High Uintas Wilderness. While our roadless narratives are delineated into drainages or geographical namesakes, such as the Bollies, it is one place unto itself. Surrounding, contiguous and adjacent to this 460,000 acre High Uintas Wilderness are about 103,000 acres of roadless North Slope lands on the Wasatch National Forest and about 314,000 acres on the Ashley National Forest North and South Slopes—about 877,000 acres of designated wilderness and roadless lands surrounding the wilderness. Of this, we propose about 80,000 acres on the North Slope of the Wasatch and 190,000 acres on the Ashley South and North Slopes that should be added to the extant High Uintas Wilderness— some 730,000 acres of High Uintas we feel should be designated wilderness.
And, of course, literally across the street (in this case, the Mirror Lake Highway) from the High Uintas Wilderness, is our proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, or Lakes Roadless Area, another 122,000 acres, making a remarkably clean, wild mountainous system of essentially 1,000,000 acres of roadless lands including the existing High Uintas Wilderness. We have recommended about 75,000 acres of the Lakes Roadless area as the proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, making for an expanse of undeniably high quality wilderness complex of some 805,000 acres! Connected to the Book Cliffs and the high Colorado Plateaus of the Southern Rockies and the high Wyoming deserts through the Green River to the Wind Rivers, the Wyoming Range, and the Yellowstone Plateau on the Northern Rockies, the Uintas crown a junction of immense wildness.
Our sole obligation is to preserve this place, to allow its wildness to connect and hold this great power... and to refresh our story and hold ourselves together as part and parcel of this wild landscape. It is here we can awaken the ghost of wolf, wolverine, and grizz and share the life of great gray owl, cougar and black bear.
This is incised and convoluted country. It is the heart of the Kamas Ranger District of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It is still wild enough that it can’t be encircled by a car in a day. You can feel its size and diversity by a drive from Kamas up the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway and west over the dirt road at Whitney Reservoir. Or try driving from Oakley up the Weber River to Smith Morehouse or Holiday Park. In between all of this is a roadless area of well over 100,000 acres; outside of the roadless country adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness, it comprises the largest expanse of roadless Forest Service land left in Utah. The Uintas are simply stunning!
Stroll up or down any of the major drainages of what the Forest Service calls the Lakes Backcountry and your wonder will be awakened as to how wild the place is and why it was never included in the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984. The slickrock cascades of the Middle Fork of the Weber, one of the wildest spots in the Uintas, will reward you with utter silence except for coyote families, moose, black bear and pine marten.
The upper benches of the Middle Fork are dotted with dozens of small lakes, wet meadows and beautiful ancient stands of spruce, creating a patchy landscape of open rock slopes, towering peaks and ridgelines. This is rugged, high elevation country.
The Main Fork of the Weber River is a larger drainage typified by dense stands of spruce and lodgepole pine tapering down to pine and aspen. The forest and river’s edge become one. The high peaks and ridges of the Uintas simply disappear into a wild forest.
A walk up Smith Morehouse Creek into Erickson Basin opens up dramatically. Long 10,000 foot ridges dominate the horizon; the forest is open with patchy stands of aspen. Here the sky reigns. But try a hike from the Smith Morehouse into the Middle Fork of the Weber through the convoluted topography of Hells Kitchen with its false summits, small isolated basins and steep lodgepole pine slopes, and it is possible to believe it is the first stroll in this country! From the barren pass between Smith Morehouse and the Middle Fork stretches a vista unmatched-- green forests, open parklands, alpine peaks and acre after acre of untouched wildness.
A hike up the North Fork of the Provo River, Shingle Creek, Yellow Pine or Boulder Creek offers another view of this landscape. Here, aspen and Doug fir forests, sagebrush flats, and parklands dominate an open landscape. High peaks are steady companions. The country imperceptibly changes from a measured landscape into steep, rugged and deep canyons typical of the higher elevation pine and spruce forests of the Uintas.
The North Fork of the Provo, a deep, massive canyon with benchlands of small lakes, potholes and nearly inaccessible ledges, now runs with force all year as the nearly dozen small impounded lakes (dammed in the 1920s) have been stabilized as natural inflow/outflow lakes at or slightly above natural lake level (all of the “dam works” have been removed). This has added to both the wildness of the region and high quality wilderness characteristics!
The Lakes Backcountry (we think it should be the Mt. Watson Wilderness) is a diverse region. Half a dozen peaks top 11,000 feet. Over 100 lakes and numerous rivers/streams slice through the area. Cougar grace the most rugged corners of the area. Black bear haunt the richer habitats. Pine marten and goshawk find the old crumpled forests essential. It is integral to protecting the entire High Uintas.
Click here to see map of Lakes Roadless Area including HUPC proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness!